Editorial

The Chernobyl VR Project Is a Bigger Deal Than You Might Think

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Yesterday was a rough day for me. I had a ton of work to do for OnlySP (a labor of love, I assure you) and my day job (no comment) and I was feeling burned out. About halfway through the episode of CW’s Arrow, Nick Calandras told me that he had sent me an email – a press release, and he asked if I could do a write up of it.

I was still a bit wound up after work, so I was resistant to the idea. But ever since I accepted the Editor in Chief position (gotta keep saying it and make it feel real), I haven’t had much time to create content, so I reluctantly agreed. So once my stories were over, I sat down at my desk, cranked out an article about Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked (shameless plug) and reluctantly turned to the press release.

But as I skimmed the story – and then read it more eagerly the second time – I began to actually feel that shriveled and knotted thing I call a heart begin to beat.

“This,” I said breathlessly, “this is what gaming needs.”

Ok, I didn’t say it out loud, but I felt it.

All joking aside, the Chernobyl VR Project fills me with a joy I’ve not felt in a long time. For all the pundits like to rail on about the state of gaming – and for all the industry deserves it – we’ve taken great strides over the past few years. Games have begun to shed, though not abandon (nor would I ask them to), the trappings of childish toys and take on a new form altogether. We have more thoughtful pieces, more artful pieces, more emotional pieces than ever before…and now we have this. This project – it’s difficult to call it a game although it sounds like it will have a game within it – has unparalleled power not only to teach, but to immerse us in a subject.

I was pretty hyped about this project, but when I told my mother about it, she seemed unimpressed. “There’s been a documentary about it,” she said, not dismissively but…well, not quite as giddy as I was. But I think this can go so much more than a simple documentary – not to dismiss the power of documentaries. Virtual reality has the potential to put us right there, right in Chernobyl. Sure, the tactile and olfactory stimulation won’t be there, but it’ll be more immersion than ever before. Through this project, through a game, we’ll be able to walk through the empty, shattered remains of a place that has been all but blocked off from modern civilization for 30 years, walk it at our own pace, in our own time, go where we want to go, see what we want to see.

It’ll be the next best thing to being there.

But even more importantly, the folks over at the Farm 51 have the opportunity for something more. Virtual reality will be more immersive, sure, but it’s really not all that much different than watching a very interactive documentary. But the Farm 51 has a chance to do what only games can. They can help us live the experience. Through their narrative, their “game,” they can put us in the experience better than any documentary, any book, any first-person account can. We won’t just be learning about Chernobyl. We won’t just be watching it. We won’t even just be interacting with it. We can truly experience it – the loss, the devastation, the power of this place.

All because of a video game.

Obviously this is a lot of pressure to put on the Farm 51 and as giddy as I am right now, I have realistic expectations. I still think this is a fantastic project and even if it doesn’t live up to my expectations, it’ll still be educational, informative and, perhaps, entertaining. But the core idea, the little mote of a concept that formed in the heads of the folks over at the Farm 51, are the inklings of a dream. A dream that we can one day wake to and find that it has changed all of gaming, legitimized it in a way that the main stream has yet to acknowledge, and to show us the true power of this pastime we all love.

Reid Gacke
Writer, journalist, teacher, pedant. Reid's done just about anything and everything involving words and now he's hoping to use them for something he's passionate about: video games. He's been gaming since the onset of the NES era and has never looked back.

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